SCOTLAND legend Andy Irvine believes Stuart Hogg will prove an “inspirational captain” but has warned the full-back to avoid getting too hyped up when he leads the side in the Six Nations.
The 27-year-old will captain his country for a second time – the first ended in a 30-29 loss to the USA in June 2018 – in Dublin on Saturday but the first since assuming the role on a permanent basis.
Hogg’s energy, drive and leadership at their pre-tournament camp in Spain has already received warm praise by team-mates including vice-captain Fraser Brown, but a raucous Aviva Stadium, in a city where Scotland haven’t won for a decade, will provide an early litmus test for his captaincy.
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“The one thing you would say about Stuart is he is unbelievably passionate,” said Irvine, who led Scotland in 15 of his 51 Tests for his country. “You always expect players to be when they are playing international rugby but he would be at the top end of the spectrum. He really does put an awful lot of himself into it, and that is a good thing.
“In the forwards, it is an absolutely physical battle and you really have to be pumped up ready for the confrontation. At full-back, you have got to be a bit calmer. If you go out all blood and guts, spoiling for a fight, you can sometimes lose your concentration. Stuart is going to have to be very careful that he doesn’t get too embroiled.
“He has been known to get involved in one or two incidents, but you have got to be calm and collected. It is something he will have to work on because he is such a passionate player.
“But I think he will do very well. He will be an inspirational captain. He was clearly very keen to take on the role and that is maybe half the battle.”
Of the 20 countries at the recent World Cup, only one was led from full-back – Russia’s Vasily Artemyev – with half the teams captained by back-rowers.
But Hogg will follow in the footsteps of Irvine and fellow legend Gavin Hastings in leading Scotland from the back-field.
Despite often being some distance from the action, and the referee, Irvine believes it offers benefits from a tactical stand-point.
“I always believed full-back was a great position to captain a team from; it’s not a problem at all,” he said. “You get a fantastic panorama, you see the whole pitch, so from a tactical point of view you can really contribute.
“When I played the two guys who ran the show were your 10 and 15, so it was important you were on a good wavelength. I was lucky when I was captain, I had John Rutherford at 10 and we had a great rapport. We both had a similar vision on the tactical side of the game and used to chat a lot.
“Hoggy is such a character; he will make himself heard. He will go in and contribute well when there are stoppages. These days there are an awful lot – maybe 10-15 two-minute stoppages every match. A game lasts two hours now, whereas it used to last an hour and a half, so he will have plenty of opportunities to walk in and have a chat.
“That is one of his strengths but you have got to be careful you don’t over-do it. At full-back you have to concentrate, you can’t get too hyped up. But he will know that, he is a very experienced guy.”Error, group does not exist! Check your syntax! (ID: 27)
Hogg has played much of his rugby – for Glasgow and Scotland – with Finn Russell at fly-half, with the two sharing the same attacking mindset and a strong rapport on and off the field.
Russell, of course, will not be in Dublin for disciplinary reasons, with Adam Hastings taking over at number 10. He is one of a number of inexperienced players in a new-look side, with a debutant number eight in Nick Haining and lock Scott Cummings making his Championship bow.
Could Hogg’s own game suffer under the extra pressure and responsibility of the captaincy?
“I never felt any extra demands on me,” said Irvine. “To be honest I was always quite happy to be captain. Then I had more say in the tactical side of things. As long as you were on a good wavelength with your number 10, everything was hunky-dory.
“There will be times when Stuart calls something and it doesn’t happen, for whatever reason. Your fly-half may make a split-second decision whether he changes it, and Stuart will have to accept that.
“We might be a bit thin here and there in terms of experience with some of the older guys moving on, but it is great to give an opportunity to young blood to show their worth.”
Irvine only tasted victory once in Dublin – a 15-6 win in 1976 – in five attempts, he only won in Cardiff for the first time – in four matches – in his final Five Nations game in 1982, and never won at Twickenham – despite one draw – or in Paris in five visits to each in his distinguished career.
That period mirrors Scotland’s recent travails on their Six Nations travels, three victories in Rome over the past decade their only triumphs since a last victory in Dublin in 2010.
“They will definitely want to bounce back after the World Cup, because it was disappointing,” Irvine added. “But Ireland away will be a very tough start – we will be looking for a hell of a performance to win there – and it is not going to get any easier with England at home.
“If we can get two or three victories it will be a reasonably successful Six Nations, but it is not going to be easy to get that, especially when you are rebuilding. These are very tough fixtures.”
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